Hunter vs. Farmer – A Contrarian View

You’ve all seen it.  A recruiter posts a job listing for a sales person and it starts off “We’re looking for a real “hunter” to go and find new business!”  The concepts of “hunter” and “farmer” are so ingrained in our sales culture that we use these terms much too loosely.  In fact, it’s possible that these terms are so incorrectly used that the true definitions could be the exact opposite of what is intended.

What are the qualities of a great “hunter” sales rep? When you consider that description, it typically depicts a sales person who can go out and close new business from scratch – using their tools of the trade to make lots of cold calls, build relationships and drive new business where no business existed previously. And the farmer is the person that hates all that tough work of prospecting, and is much better at upselling existing customers to generate new business.

Now, let’s think about what a true hunter does. They take their tools of the trade and go out – typically in well known locations – and kill in order to satisfy one of our most basic needs (food). Of course, you could focus on people that hunt for pleasure vs. necessity; I would argue that the motivation and results are similar. Contrast that to a farmer, who plants seeds, tends and cares his garden, and (if all was done properly) he will have a lush crop of food several months down the line.

So, why do enterprise software companies want hunters? Are they interested in sales reps who can quickly “kill” their customers with a quick close that will be used to satisfy a short term need (i.e. cash) but with no long term benefits? Or do they want farmers – people that will plant lots of seeds (i.e. prospects) with the hope of a large harvest down the road (i.e. large, repeatable sales and customers)? Ok, I get it – the hunter analogy can apply to the sales person who makes a lot of cold calls – since a hunter is typically looking for their prey in a large open area, not sure exactly where they will be. But a smart hunter focuses in on the smallest area possible to provide him with the best outcome, and isn’t that also what a farmer does? In fact, if anything, the farmer is a great example of a targeted market segment – going after a very specific area that you feel confident will give you the best returns.

To conclude, a successful software startup looking for repeatable sales needs to (a) focus their efforts on the right customer base, (b) plant lots of seeds in that base, and (c) see where the opportunity is most lush, then tend it diligently. It seems to me these are the attributes of a farmer, not a hunter. It also seems to me that the hunters go for the large kill that can last for a while, whereas the farmer looks for sustainable results. Sustainability and repeatability are key, and great farmers excel at this.

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